The Palestinians reject the demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They cannot be forced to accede to this request. The Palestinians are right when they say the diplomatic custom is to recognize a country, not its regime. Of course, our situation is more complex.
The matter of a Jewish state is not only a question of regime - it is the very reason for partitioning the land into two states. The partition alone is far from a reason to celebrate. The Palestinians and the right wing have always had good reasons not to divide the land - there is no justification for dividing it unless it is necessary to grant national independence to its two peoples.
The 1947 United Nations committee that recommended partitioning the land into "a Jewish state" and "an Arab state" cited the presence of two peoples, Arab and Jewish. In contrast to the well-known claim that the Jews were a religious community and not a nation, the committee determined that there were two peoples, and that only by means of partition could both achieve their conflicting national aspirations and take their places as independent nations in the international community.
The Palestinian Arabs rejected this principle and went to war, and are now demanding that Israel take responsibility for the war's outcome. If indeed they have come to terms with the principle of partition, it would be very helpful in fostering an atmosphere of trust if they would specifically state what should be obvious: The two-state solution means two states for two peoples.
Moreover, in the framework of the Geneva Initiative, senior Palestinian representatives signed off on recognizing "the right of the Jewish people to statehood." The Israeli partners to the initiative presented the inherent recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as one of their major achievements.
It is strange that now they are silent on this issue. Why haven't they called on the Palestinian leadership to respect this principle of the agreement, which they presented to the Israeli public as an unofficial reflection of the Palestinian mainstream's positions? And what is the value of the supposed renunciation of the Palestinian right of return to Israel, which the Israeli architects of the Geneva Initiative attributed to their Palestinian counterparts? Some of the Palestinian signatories have already denied that the ambiguous and complex formulation on that matter in the Geneva Initiative implies giving up the right of return to Israel on their part. It now seems that the agreement does not obligate the Palestinian leadership.
As noted, if the Palestinians continue to insist on their right to recognize only the State of Israel, it is impossible to budge them. However, we must make sure that those who argue that it is not their business to recognize Israel's regime do not try to dictate Israel's immigration policy by demanding the right of return within its borders.
This demand is, for all intents and purposes, the negation of the Jewish state and the principle of a two-state solution. The United States has already determined, under the Clinton Plan, that the Palestinian right of return must be to the Palestinian state and not to Israel, and linked this explicitly to the two-state solution that includes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. On this we must insist, along with the United States. We, not our neighbors, will indeed determine the official definition of Israel.
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